The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Claims Involvement in Nelson Mandela of South Africa 1962 Arrest by Disclosing Classified Documents as a CIA Operative Admits He Tipped Off Government to Mandela’s Location.
The May 2016 screening of John Irvin’s documentary Mandela’s Gun at the Cannes film festival was preceded by a bombshell: a tip from the CIA is what led to the 1962 arrest of antiapartheid leader Nelson Mandela by authorities in South Africa and began his decades-long period of incarceration.
That the United States had a hand in Mandela’s arrest has long been suspected but has also been refuted, including denials by Donald Rickard, a vice-consul at the U.S. embassy in South Africa at the time who was also a CIA operative.
However, shortly before his death in March 2016, Rickard admitted in an interview for the film that he had indeed told the South African government where Mandela would be around that time in 1962, thus allowing the government to capture Mandela.
To many who remember the United States as one of the countries that imposed sanctions on South Africa in the 1980s to protest that country’s discriminatory policy of apartheid, the revelation that the CIA had aided in the capture of one of the heroes of the antiapartheid movement might seem incongruous.
However, when placed within the context of international relations during the early 1960s, it is not so incredible—and indeed is the reason why the suspicions that the U.S. was involved persisted as long as they did.
The Cold War between the United States and communist Soviet Union was ongoing, and the United States gravitated toward stable anti communist regimes in Africa, such as that of South Africa. As Mandela and the African National Congress—in particular, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”), the group’s military wing—were agitating against the state’s policy of apartheid, they were viewed as threats to the government.
Rickard also claimed that, at the time, the CIA viewed Mandela as “the most dangerous communist outside of the Soviet Union” and thought he could launch a communist rebellion in South Africa that would draw both the Soviet Union and the United States into the fray.
Rickard said that his actions eliminated that threat. The disclosure of the CIA’s involvement led to calls for the CIA to release classified documents regarding its actions.
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